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22 years of Successful Aging: Part 2 of the anniversary column

This week is the second part of my annual anniversary column. Each October, I reread all of the emails and other communications from our readers to report highlights of what I have learned from them this past year.

Language: One reader disliked the term “senior” “because it “denotes old and feeble” and instead suggested the word “experienced.” Another recommended the term “golden” as a substitute because “it goes up in value each year, is sought after…not discarded…not hoarded…or put away in homes.” Some are eager to be called a “senior.” A public-school educator reminds us that “high school students and collegians cannot wait to adopt the title…”

And then there is the term “elderly.” A 69-year-old reader was shocked when his Ambien prescription was canceled because it was no longer approved for “elderly patients.” He describes himself as fit, works out daily, plays golf weekly and rides his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. However, another reader likes the term “elder” as well as the English term “pensioner.”

Stuff: A reader writes, “The stuff I can’t let go of is so emotional.” She describes the “stuff” as “my daughter’s little hands-on construction paper, report cards, scribbled notes and cards from my granddaughters … the encouraging notes from my dad who died in 2015 and birthday cards my mom created.” She ends with, “just writing this makes me tear up.” Not everyone holds on to their stuff. Parents of children ages 45, 47 and 51 wrote, they “don’t want any of our old stuff… we are good at letting go … to fit into our smaller space.” For those having a problem downsizing one reader suggests taking a photo of the items to be discarded, saving the photos on a flash drive, printing others and creating albums.

Grandparents: This subject brought joy as well as sadness. One reader reminisced the joyful memories of her late grandmother. “Her home was open to us always. I don’t think she even had a key. Every Friday night, we had tuna noodle casserole at her house. We never doubted for a minute that she loved us.” This grandmother did not permit any “high drama or wailing,” she adds. Yet a male reader writes about his sadness. “My daughter is civil and pleasant to me, but we are not invited to any of the kids’ birthday parties or holidays.” He continues, “What makes matters worse, we live in a 55+ community where all of our neighbors have stories about how much they see and enjoy their grandchildren.”

Unretirement: A retired aerospace/military technical writer for 35 years misses the camaraderie and place to go each morning besides Starbucks or the Coffee Bean. He is thinking about working again and expressed concern about age discrimination. He asks, “Would employers be open to giving an experienced retiree a chance?” For others, unretiring is a financial necessity as noted by a retired police officer who started another county job at age 67.

Employment: An 86-year-old woman needs the income from work to supplement Social Security. She finds it frustrating that after years of cashier experience, she is unable to find employment. She suggests interviewing managers to “look beyond the wrinkles ….” A different example is that of a physician who continues to work past age 80. He closed his medical practice five years ago when he worked five days a week. Today, his practice is almost entirely hospice-based and he now is working seven days a week. An 85-year-old door-replacement salesman takes two appointments a day and travels between 100 and 150 miles a day. He writes he never made so much money and advises, “Don’t retire; have a purpose in life!” And then there is the 80-year-old woman with a special needs daughter who needs to earn $100 a week to supplement her SSI and Social Security income. She does not know where to turn.

And here is what gives added meaning to a columnist on aging. A human resources professional writes, “I see the trend towards hiring the young employee. Your article (on the value of older employees) provided me validation for my work efforts (in hiring older workers). This is a keeper and one which I will share (with others).”

Kindness: Readers seemed to have paid attention to the last line of my columns which are words about kindness. One reader suggested that “kindness rules.” Another finds that “kindness” promotes healthy aging, as he visits his wife at the City of Hope. And another just wrote, “Beautiful!”

So dear readers, thank you for sharing your challenges, victories and wisdom. We all are learners in shaping these years to be the finest. To the best of my ability, I will continue to provide you with the most recent information, research and perspectives on aging. And occasionally a bit of opinion and personal experience will be thrown in for good measure.

To each of you – good health, joy and successful aging … and know kindness is everything.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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